Air Strikes terror into hearts of students of history of US military intervention

Barrack Obama has unveiled his plan for US military intervention in the Middle East. No. nothing unilateral. The US will lead a coalition. And there’s more. No boots on the ground. Humanitarian motives. Air strikes, armaments and advisers only will be supplied. Or so we are told. No mention of the W word. It’s the war you have when you are not having a war. If Obama’s plan sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. The plan will not deliver the intended objective. ISIS will not be significantly diminished by a policy of erosion, however systematic. Increasingly abortive air strikes will lead inevitably to mission creep. Mission creep raises its ugly head today amidst a thicket of euphemisms, jargon and military double-speak which US involvement richly and effortlessly generates. It is not what it might seem. No. Mission creep is not the detested commander in chief who never knows what’s going on – on the ground and who never gives the troops enough to do a proper job. No. He is not the guy on your mission who takes selfies with corpses, loots from combat zones or who takes advantage of the thousand and one opportunities war provides to the morally challenged. On this occasion mission creep is a cute way of saying boots in air will be followed by boots on the ground. The mission Obama has so carefully and confusingly outlined will morph into full military involvement. Boots and all. It’s inconceivable that he’s unaware of this but it may be postponed until his term of office concludes. Indeed, boots on the ground could be a catchy and attractive slogan for the next Republican candidate to aim for the Oval Office. Boots on the ground is another US militarism but unlike mission creep, one which dates from the earliest encounters. The literal meaning is easy to grasp. But it symbolises an approach to battle that has characterised part of US military thinking for at least eighty years. It is an approach, however, despite its pedigree which brings with it intrinsic difficulties. In the Second World War, it was a cornerstone of US strategy. History is not kind in its verdict. The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) pursued a doctrine of strategic bombing as its main mission. The doctrine was founded in the belief that unescorted bombers could win the war all by themselves. No ground troops would be required. It was a fundamentally flawed doctrine. Yet it prevailed throughout the entire course of the war. Belief in the doctrine did not waver amongst USAAF command. Consequently the USAAF operated independently of the rest of the Army. Strategic bombing is neither new to US military thinking nor without its detractors. It appeals of course to presidents such as Obama whose advisors would gauge this type of military intervention as the easiest to sell to a population increasingly wary of engaging in foreign wars. Yet in an era of alternative sources of information from Al Jazeera to social media and images taken on cell phones, it is increasingly difficult if not impossible to maintain that it is a workable policy. For it flies in the face of all evidence. At its core is the delusion of a safer type of warfare. The face of US policy, however, is one thing. Its exercise is another. Again, the key is in the language. Students of US military-speak around the world and especially in South East Asia and the Middle East would understand that the phrase military advisor can cover a multitude of modes of deployment including active combat. Historically, the role of the US military advisor is well-defined. It is the soldier you send to fight when you are not sending soldiers to fight. The Vietnam War demonstrated that for the US there is no such thing as a military “advisor” in a war zone.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. sent thousands of military “advisors” to South Vietnam to allegedly train the South Vietnamese army against “Communist” invaders. This was, of course, another civil war that the U.S. should have had no role in and that only created an even worse debacle in that country. But the fact of the matter was that these so-called “advisers” were, in fact, combat troops or special forces units that didn’t just advise; they engaged in combat. That’s why they were there in the first place. Americans don’t like taking a secondary role to anyone, and certainly this is true of the U.S. military. No military “adviser” is going to just take a secondary role with the Iraqi military. Mario T Garcia National Catholic Reporter
We need to be cautious about what the President has set in place. We need to be sure we understand the nature of the beast that has been unleashed. We need to be hard-nosed. Military intervention admits of no other kind of approach. One way to start would be for politicians who have written a blank cheque of support for Obama’s intervention to cancel it. Instead they should ask the hard questions. These include: What is the US planning exactly? Why? What will it most likely lead to? This particularly applies to Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott. Stop slavering at the prospect of a war. It’s embarrassing. You don’t need to act like a total sycophant of the US to help your much beloved ally. In fact you would be more respected and you would be of more use to ‘our great and powerful friend’ if you asked what exactly the US plan really was and what precisely we are committing ourselves to supporting. And then you need to share this immediately with the Australian people. It will be a difficult new step for you. it will involve the extension of trust. It will involve the practice of honest communication and democratic sharing. You may have to take fresh advice. But it won’t hurt your image at all. And it may save the lives of the very people it is your responsibility to protect.

Gun running 101: Australia disposes of obsolete weapons in crafty move.

Australia, along with France, Germany, Italy, Britain is sending arms to brave Kurds to help them fight ISIS. The accompanying rhetoric uttered by Abbott and other vacuous blowhards and petty nonentities who love to get their heads on camera in even a phony war uses the high-sounding noble cause of humanitarianism rather than the more accurate self interest in securing Western oil supplies. Abbott embarrassingly always adds the completely unnecessary rider that we don’t know what America wants from us but when it does decide, whatever it wants it can have. We are making ourselves useful. Not just standing there scratching our heads because no one has really given us a job to do. Because no-one really knows what to do. OK we’ll be gunrunners in the meantime. Great photo opportunities of Kurdish women in camouflage gear opening parcels of weapons from Australia, the ones that didn’t fall in the next village. Now let’s round up some guns we are not really using.

Given the nature of the weapons we are supplying, Australia’s humanitarian spin is even more difficult to accept. The weapons we are sending according to Australian media reports are AK 47s. Now the AK 47 is still a useful weapon – if you have no weapon at all. Or if you are a museum. But against the sophisticated weapons that ISIS possesses make you wonder whose side Australia is on.

The AK 47 is over 60 years old. In contrast to the M16 – and other weapons used nowadays it is inferior in range, precision, firing speed and it is a good kilogram heavier than modern equivalents. Given that forces constitute both female and male soldiers, the weight is an issue. So, too is the range. An ISIS soldier with even an M16 will have over a hundred metres better range. The AK 47 is slower to load and has the capacity to catch fire if used on protracted automatic fire setting.

In brief, a few plane loads of AK 47s are a curious sort of gift from the Australian government to those whom it clearly expects to take the fight up to well-equipped ISIS forces. Of course, it may be clever thinking by some Australian military types to donate weapons that are unlikely to be of use if captured. Weapons that would have a very low resale value on the black market. But providing inferior outmoded weapons, makes our humanitarian gesture seem less noble and more like a type of sabotage. It’s a bit like giving a Christmas present out of obligation to a distant relative you can’t abide. It is as if some official determined on a bit of tidy-up opened an armoury in some obscure barracks in a remote part of Australia found a cache of AK 47s from 1948 he or she wanted to dispose of. You can’t take them to the tip. Destruction costs money. Brainwave! We’ll airmail them to the Peshmerga and other Kurds.

And it is a gift that will go on giving. Having done so much already to make himself and his nation figures of fun, our self-parodying PM has unerringly acted once again in a manner which is guaranteed to have other nations laughing. Or snorting with derision.

Now the forces we are dumping our junk on are currently opening a lot of gun gift parcels. Other countries are donating more modern weapons. Weapons that don’t give you enemy an instant advantage. Weapons that are not an inherent liability.

Perhaps the thinking is that Australia’s effort will stand out. In a stroke of genius, a bureaucrat has arranged a gift that is so unlike any other relief parcel that the recipients won’t feel spoiled. They will see the museum piece for what it is and feel a warm glow of gratitude knowing that the Aussies did not want to spoil them. No. Australians want to build their moral fibre. As former Prime Minister Malcom Fraser would have said killing your enemy is not to be easily accomplished, something you take for granted. Look at Gallipoli. Death wasn’t meant to be easy.

Terror Alert

Australia’s least popular and most incompetent Prime Minister of all time, ‘Mad Monk’ Tony Abbott has once again alarmed the entire nation today with a bizarre outburst of rabid ranting and incoherent, irrational paranoid drivel. Indeed, so lacking in reason, decorum and any other apparent foundation, was his behaviour that many took his appearance to be an early Liberal Party sponsored election advertisement. Others believed they detected the effects of too much time in the company of attack dog Morrison given the Minister’s propensity for speaking in tongues and his notorious random outbursts of mindless fury. Fox and other purveyors of overpriced cable and satellite TV were swamped with calls from new subscribers determined to switch off their free to air TV for good. I don’t care if it’s the Discovery Channel 24/7 one woman explained, as long as I never have to look at that lunatic again.

Interrupting daytime television news broadcasts, Abbott’s grotesquely distorted face and hysterical gibbering terrified women and children forced to stay at home alone clustered together for protection in front of their plasma or LCD TV whilst their menfolk suddenly headed for local parks to commence Tai Chi, origami, Feng Shui and other martial arts training.

The Prime Minister’s broadcast is reported to have also caused dole bludgers in Balmain and other home grown radical Islamists to rush chemists, supermarkets and convenience stores to buy heavy duty shaving gear and exfoliation equipment and to burn their brothers’ passports lest they be apprehended trying to leave the country.

Looking grave with a capital G and no Abu, Abbott babbled insanely and volubly warning as behoves his new role as Napoleon Cockatoo. We must share with everyone of you today, the high, huge, and extreme risk facing every Australian citizen from evil, sinful Jihadist terrorists abroad whose wanton depravity knows no boundaries. They hate our way of life he added, twitching. Our values. They love falafel.

Looking ever more like Dicky Knee, Dick the dentist’s son, Tony was supported on camera by retiring ASIO Chief, David Irvine who looked to be playing Daryl Somers judging by the hand up Abbott’s back. Irvine, aka Colonel Codswallop, who was played by Barry Humphries with a bad hangover slowly mumbled the same paranoid fantasies that got him the ASIO job in the first place and waved an elderly service revolver off camera for rhetorical emphasis. Codswallop who looks as if he could smother a tactical nuclear device simply by covering it with his vast, rumpled doughy face was holding Abbott’s hand and other parts of his anatomy as they came into his camera shot.

Regrettably the broadcast was abruptly terminated when an explosion off screen appeared to deprive the studio of electricity. A clearly terrified Abbott was witnessed leaping across the studio into Irvine’s arms and calling for his mother. Both men appeared to be in a state of mutual terror or on the verge of a complete breakdown.

Slippery Slope

Christopher Pyne is not one of Australia’s most popular politicians. Opinion polls show he hovers either just above Joe Hockey or just under him at the bottom of the nation’s esteem. Say what you like, it can’t be easy being Christopher. Some of, the Member for Sturt brings on himself with displays of spectacular ineptitude as Education Minister, (he makes State Education Ministers look good) or in his behaviour in the house. Calling Shorten a c**t in parliament and then lamely denying it does not endear you to the electorate. His personal manner and bearing do not help his cause. He’s been called prissy and precious and precocious and other ‘p’ words. And it is true that his style does not help his own cause. His parliamentary and press performances are almost a form of self-parodying performance art, a campy caricature of the consummate politician, now complete with new, enhanced technology: Pyne on line. Or an overcharged Energiser Bunny. It would be amusing if he did not demean himself, his audience and all other interested parties. For even as Pyne performance art, audience members are being short-changed.

Yet we must not be dazzled by the spectacle that is Christopher Pyne. We must look past the performance art. Indeed, his own razzle-dazzle can function as a strategic distraction, just as Liberace’s costume hid more than the occasional bum note. Let’s not be fooled by Abbott’s Fool. Let us put public spectacle to one side. The critical issue is what Christopher achieved when he set out to sink Peter Slipper. For whatever his motives, he has succeeded in diminishing all of us. He may also have further undermined, mired and befouled his own government.

What was he thinking at the time? Doubtless, his stiff the Slipper strategy appealed on many levels. In a sort of Black Ops way, attack dog Pyne could fetch his master’s Slipper, bring down the Gillard government, advance his own career and extend a bit of camaraderie, counselling and beer support to an attractive young staffer who was clearly in need of a mentor. And at first blush, it seemed to go off so very well. Judging by Pyne’s own après schmooze text message to James Ashby, he very much enjoyed their meeting. And Ashby appears to have been gladdened by the prospect of a political job after Slipper’s office and the knowledge his legal fees would be taken care of.

Today, however, Christopher’s plan has unravelled. And as it unravels it threatens to take its conspirators with it. First, the full bench of the Federal Court in February of this year found that in essence Ashby’s case was politically motivated, vexatious, and an abuse of process. It was effectively an attempt to bring down the speaker and damage his reputation. Then Pyne, of course, never kept his promises to James Ashby. There has been no job in politics and no payment of the staffer’s legal fees. Ashby will no longer have the costs of his sexual harassment suit against Peter Slipper paid for by the former speaker because his decision to drop the case robbed Mr Slipper of the opportunity to contest the allegations. In the Federal Court on Thursday, Justice Geoffrey Flick vacated a costs order made in August 2012 that would have required Mr Slipper to pay Mr Ashby’s considerable lawyers’ fees on an indemnity basis. Ashby has had to resort to Sixty Minutes to recoup some of the costs. And to get his revenge.

The circumstantial evidence is damning. Pyne conspires with Ashby to end former Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper’s political career. He induces the young staffer in Slipper’s office, to bring a sexual harassment case against his boss. Slipper resigns after indelicate misogynistic text messages to Ashby are made public. Pyne disavows any wrong-doing. And of course he claims to be unaware of any involvement by Tony Abbott and Mal Brough who both had their own good reasons to sink the boot into Slipper. And, of course, neither Abbott nor Brough know anything although Mal Brough does concede publicly that if the public thinks that he got rid of Slipper because he was after Slipper’s seat then that must be what happened.

After 60 Minutes goes to air. Pyne goes into damage control. For Pyne this is an especially risky manoeuvre. The more he protests, the more he indicts himself. His denials are evasive, wordy and completely unconvincing. Even for Christopher Pyne. He is in it over his head.

With barefaced audacity, he fronts cameras in a Colourbond fenced suburban backyard somewhere, Chateau Pyne sur Sturt, perhaps, and makes an embarrassingly lame attempt to divert the heat on to the previous Labor government. It is farcical, consummate Pyne performance art. Then he sings the set piece from the libretto to his comic opera. It is typically, tortuous, wordy, hair-splitting and evasive:

‘I had a brief meeting, we discussed the fact the Queensland state election was coming very soon, he indicated he was uncomfortable in Mr Slipper’s office and I indicated to him that if we won the Queensland state election that would be a chance potentially for him to get out of Mr Slipper’s office but the fact is there was no job ever provided for Mr Ashby,’ Mr Pyne said.

‘My intention was never to lead him to believe that a job would be provided to him but obviously if we won the Queensland state election and then subsequently the federal election, when you are in government there are a lot more jobs available than when you are in opposition and that if he felt uncomfortable in Mr Slipper’s office, that would be an opportunity for him to get out of the office.’

Get him out of the office is a key phrase. Freudian, perhaps. Pyne did not counsel the troubled staffer to follow normal procedures in such cases. Canberra public service protocols provide a framework and an expectation that such matters are resolved by other means and that legal action be considered only as a last resort. The “Genuine Steps Rule”, a procedure introduced in 2011 requires parties to try and resolve their disputes before taking court action. In Ashby’s case, the Judge questioned why a relatively minor matter like sexual harassment claims could not have been settled another way. Clearly by his own admission, here, Pyne has at best been a false friend. He has counselled courtroom conflagration and led the young staffer on to play with fire.

It matters not that Ashby did not proceed to take up a position in politics or government. What matters a great deal is that all evidence points to Pyne’s complicity in a plot to remove a member of parliament, a plot that surely Abbott and others in the then opposition knew about. Furthermore, Pyne seems to have been rewarded with a cabinet position. For fifteen long years no Liberal leader would even give him the time of day, let alone a portfolio.

Yet Abbott maintains he was unaware of the machinations surrounding Ashby’s complaint against the speaker, or the support of the Daily Telegraph. Astonishingly, Abbott’s press release calling for Slipper’s resignation was ready to print the moment the Telegraph went to press with the story. It may even have been prepared before the Slipper story broke.

Pyne encouraged Ashby to lay charges against Peter Slipper with two inducements.  He offered to pay Ashby’s legal fees. He promised him a job afterwards. Ashby agreed to help Pyne ‘get’ Slipper. He was to lay a claim of sexual harassment against former Speaker of the House. Pyne says he knew that Ashby had been ‘uncomfortable’ with Slipper’s behaviour. He took the opportunity to exploit the situation.

Peter, “Salty cunts in brine” Slipper is himself an odd fish. And certainly, James Ashby also appears to be an unusual sort of chap. You wonder what was in it for him. What sort of job was he likely to get when it transpired that he had acted illegally? What was it that caused him to overlook his responsibility towards the ‘Genuine Steps’ process of conflict resolution in favour of a high stakes gamble with Pyne as banker? Why has he changed his testimony now? In court documents filed in 2012, Mr Ashby said he was not offered or did not receive any inducements or rewards for making the high-profile sexual harassment claims against Mr Slipper. Or could he simply have given up on his erstwhile Liberal mentor and supporters and elected to tell the truth. Is it coincidental that he was recently accused of having sexual relations with underage boys?

Above all, why, on 17 June did Ashby drop the case against Peter Slipper?

He gave these reasons:

Mr Ashby said he was aware of reports Mr Slipper was mentally unwell and he did not want to continue lengthy proceedings that could cause further harm.

“After deep reflection and consultation with those close to me, I now have decided to seek leave to discontinue my Federal Court action against Peter Slipper,” he said in a statement. “This has been an intense and emotionally draining time for me and my family, taking its toll on us all.”

Or perhaps, the more plausible explanation is that he was paid to shut up. The LNP fearing scandal paid him to drop the case.

Delegated or self-appointed agent provocateur, Pyne, would no doubt have leapt eagerly at the chance to help his master and his own career advancement.  Doubtless there was more than a nod and a wink from his boss. Abbott’s ambition to win power at any price combined with his desire to wreak revenge on Peter Slipper for leaving the party and becoming speaker, allowing Labor government to remain in power.

Others on Team Abbott did their bit. Mal Brough, who would step into Slipper’s electorate at the following election, appears to have leapt at the chance to ask Ashby to download Slipper’s diary, a diary which was later leaked to News Corp. David Marr writes:

“Tony Abbott also has a stake in the appeal. He has stood by Brough despite his friend being caught trying to hide his role in the campaign to destroy Slipper. Abbott has never criticised his part in the operation. Despite Brough’s lies, he praises his candour: “I want to make it clear that Mal has been very upfront about his involvement in this”.

Since the 60 Minutes programme was broadcast there has been an unnatural silence.

Christopher Pyne prides himself on the correspondence he has with his constituents in the Blue Ribbon seat of Sturt. He sends constituents birthday cards on their 21st and significant birthdays. They love him, he says. He tells them he signs every card. By hand. They feel relaxed and comfortable with him. He believes.

Real power in Sturt even more than anywhere else in the country has little to do with politics. You would think you could win this wealthy, leafy Liberal seat just by putting on a blue tie. Over the years, however, Pyne has seen his majority decline to the point where Sturt is regarded as the most marginal seat in the country. Now that’s quite an achievement. No doubt changing demographics, as they say, have contributed to marginalising Sturt. Pyne cannot take all the blame. Ultimately, perhaps, as in parliament, to be an effective MP, you really do have to more than act like a politician. Pyne needs to heed the message his electorate is sending him. He needs to get relevant. Get real. Given the length of his career, however, he is either a slow learner or he just doesn’t have it in him. What is likely to happen is events will conspire to take the decision away from him. In a process of natural selection, he stands to lose his own seat at the next election.

In the meantime, Pyne needs to remember his place and station. He is pre-eminently Sturt’s Louis Vuitton manbag. He is Abbott’s fool in the House. He needs to give up the hanky panky and the covert ops. In his misguided zeal he stepped out of role as agent provocateur for Abbott and other like-minded Liberals and LNP members. Now lap-dog Pyne has ensured that his master, Tony Abbott has further tricky questions to answer. Questions that may well prove to be his undoing. Be that as it may, Abbott can now be assured of a place in history for his agency in the Peter Slipper scandal — a covert political conspiracy by the Coalition to bring down the Parliamentary Speaker, Peter Slipper, and through him the Federal Government of Australia.

Operation Groundhog Day

Prime Minister, you say you are ‘disgusted’ by the beheadings of journalists recently carried out by IS. If only we could take that for granted. If only you did not feel that you had to tell us. Preferred that it were a safe assumption. Preferred that we were given credit for our intelligence. Treated like adults.

Public decapitations filmed for propaganda purposes are disturbing, shocking reminders of the darkest parts of the human condition, the barbarism and atrocity of war. The taunting and gloating of the young men carrying out the executions confront and disgust us. But let’s not let moral indignation supplant our reasoned understanding of this latest hideous brutality. 

Yes, Mr Abbott, most of us are disgusted. Just as we are disgusted and ashamed to be denying basic human rights in our lethal detention centres and fetid camps where we pen up asylum seekers for indefinite periods before they are processed. Whatever processed means. It seems to include untimely and preventable death through neglect.

But thank you for sharing. We see it now. You do seem to have a blind spot. A disturbing moral blindness in many areas. Perhaps you are wise when you feel you do need to tell us. Duly noted. Just don’t expect us to take it as gospel.

Allow your electorate some intelligence. Credit us with some faculty of reason.

Prime Minister, you appear highly selective in your outrage. Where, for example, is your moral outrage over Saudi beheadings of women? Six women have been decapitated by sword this year. The public floggings of women? Or could it be that you voice moral indignation whenever it’s political expedient? When it helps your cause?

Over the last year, Saudis have executed eighty people. Twelve were women. Most were decapitated in public. Last August a mother and daughter were beheaded before an audience of men in a Dharan market. It was alleged the mother had colluded with her daughter to kill her husband. Saudi beheadings are typically not publicised for fear of Western censure. 

Mr Abbott, tell us straight. You don’t have to soften us up for the coalition of the wilting’s latest military misadventure. We know you. We know you can’t resist. You believe it will boost your popularity. In the short term this may be true. In the long term, however, it is bad for all of us. Groundhog day is upon us. Eleven years on we are going down the same track. What’s that? Another war on terror? Again we have a rallying cry. And an emblem, the grotesque atrocity of public execution of the innocent. One again it is a humanitarian cause. It is moral. It is the right thing to do. Righteous. Let us not be deceived, however, it is another war in Iraq. A war that threatens to repeat all of our earlier disasters.  It will be long and bloody. It will create further chaos and suffering.

The rise of Jihadist terrorism in Iraq cannot be seen in isolation. Nor is it useful to assume the moral high ground, (assuming there is any space left on that overcrowded premium real estate). We need to take a broader and deeper view. A Prime Minister’s expression of disgust is his prerogative as a private citizen. And one which will be widely shared. Keep it private. In public it is a risky gambit because it manufactures a spurious legitimacy and identity of purpose. We are drawn irresistibly to don the mantle of the righteous in pursuit of the damned.

The PM’s expression of disgust privileges a reductive perspective. Demonising the barbaric executioners helps mobilise us against them but it is not conducive to understanding them or to any enduring solution to the problem they represent.  It begs prejudging and trivialising of the horrific acts we are being made to witness. We may even feel comforted in our moral outrage, supported as we are by our nation’s leader. Before too long we are complicit in a lynch mob or posse.

The reality is confronting and disquieting. First, we must identify and accept our own responsibility, repugnant as this may be.  For we helped to create this Jihadist monster. Whilst it may make some of us feel good, at the moment, to point the finger, we must accept some blame. Just as we must be part of the solution.

In joining the United States in the ‘war on terror’, we helped create the painful chaos that made the rise of ISIS and similar groups possible. Western intervention caused massive dislocation, instability and resentment: a perfect breeding ground for unrest. Fanatical jihadist groups thrived.

It is true we deposed a tyrant in Saddam Hussein. But other monsters were fostered by his overthrow and by the collapse of his modern state. Demonising helped distort our perspective. We were unwilling to face even the most fundamental of realities such as the huge death toll occasioned by our intervention.

At an early part in the war with Iraq, an estimated 400,000 to 900,000 civilian deaths occurred. Yet Bush dismissed the figures, claiming it was based on flawed techniques, even though it used estimation techniques his own government agencies taught others to use. Instead we were positioned to expect Iraqis to rush to democracy and nation-building. Our willful self-deception appeared limitless. 

Violent sectarian conflict ensued. It continues today. The Iraqi state is unlikely to survive. Together we have helped destroy it. We supported PM Nouri al-Maliki in his self-destruction, his corrupt, incompetent government and his campaign of Sunni persecution. Little wonder, ISIS found eager recruits among the Iraqi Sunni population.

The Coalition of the Willing was our last outside invasion’s grand title. It was predicated on a lie, the convenient fiction that the Iraqi leader had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Other mythologies included the fiction that Osama Bin Laden was the master mind behind the September 11 attack. In the end the ‘war on terror’ cost the US three to four trillion dollars, helping to send it broke in fiscal terms and also in terms of reputation. If Bin Laden had hoped to bring about the end of the American Century, he succeeded. Gone was the mythic invincibility of US foreign power. In its place was the spectacle of small bands of rag-tag guerrilla soldiers defying or frustrating the greatest power in world history.

Yet we are tooling up to do it all again. By now we would hope we have learned from our earlier lack of regard for the consequences of our immediate actions. We do not need to join any coalition of the willy-nilly however well our impulsivity matches our leader’s personality, or however much our great and powerful friend the United States may expect it of us. 

Let us not again jump on our moral high horses and rush into a complex and lethal struggle we don’t understand to follow a noble cause instead of a battle plan.  Let us do some hard thinking about what it is we want to achieve lest we be fooled once again into indulging in the luxury of moral outrage at the cost of due diligence. We need to be clear-sighted about what we want to achieve and how we should best go about it. Disgust may be a starting point but it must be followed by informed and dispassionate analysis. Otherwise like a latter day Don Quixote we are in danger of being seduced by the ideals of chivalry and ignoring the voice of reason. Not chivalry but practicality should be our watchword. Romantic ideals of vengeance will ultimately destroy us unless they are tempered with the wisdom of strategic thinking based on the best possible evidence and advice.

 

 

 

Abbott takes the (yellow) cake.

Fresh back from Delhi, globe-trotting, Tony Abbott has achieved another personal milestone. He has now racked up the same number of frequent flyer points as Kevin Rudd. He will no doubt apologise to the former PM for his vacuous, annoyingly mindless criticism of him when as leader of the opposition he wasted everyone’s time and tried everyone’s patience pouring scorn on everything Mr Rudd did including daring to travel overseas and exercising diplomacy.

Unapologetic about his past and his fast track world statesman trajectory, Abbott has been spruiking India’s “impeccable credentials” in nuclear non-proliferation. It’s nonsense but it’s what you say when you are between a rock of yellowcake and a hard political place. 

Fortunately Abbott was able to do something useful while he was in the subcontinent. He repatriated a looted statue of Shiva which some Australian had “lifted” and flogged to a major Australian gallery. “Leaner” Bruce Billson and who until recently was widely believed to be Australia’s Minister for Small Business was despatched in search of some signed cricket bats to oil the wheels of future diplomatic initiatives such as asking India to repatriate asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.

Billson, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a well-filled but undercooked Samosa with eyes was last sighted negotiating a film project with a major Bollywood producer for a suitable product to replace Question Time.

“Of course there will be time for any number of Dorothy Dixers, in the new format but they will danced and sung by professional actors. It is just another way the Coalition demonstrates its relevance”, he said.

Making diplomatic inroads into a Rogan Josh, the North Frankston MP, was attended by a bevy of starlets who were keen to be signed up on 457 working visas as personal research assistants. All present fell silent, however, when Mr Abbott took to his feet, proudly wearing a pair of Jaipur Jodphurs. Very practical, he said, flashing his ankle. No need for bicycle clips.        

Returning Shiva to his country of origin brought a winking man’s smile to Mr Abbott’s lips. If you enter Australia illegally, you can expect to be sent back to where you came from.

Others in his entourage and around the table flashed their gold teeth, ivory cufflinks and blackberries, shook hands with each other and agreed that putting Shiva back in his rightful place was a diplomatic coup and a living testimony to the fact that Australia and India has so much in common beyond the game of cricket.

Now I’ve got a bit of a surprise for you, Mr Abbott whispered in Narenda Modi’s ear as he grasped his host around the shoulders in a rugby embrace. It’s not just a stolen statue I have in my suitcase. I’ve brought a bit of hot yellowcake with me. Well, not exactly stolen, he winked, but negotiated by BHP from its traditional owners for a good price.

My God, man, the Indian PM expostulated, wincing at the force of Abbott’s embrace and a blast of Lynx aftershave. His Cartier watch, a gift from Putin, slipped off his fine wrist into his dahl.

We are having Uranium imports from countries all over the world. Even Kazahkstan can’t wait to get into bed with us on uranium sales. But you can never have too much.  The extra could always be put to good use making bombs to aim at China or Pakistan or sent on down the line to Tamil Nadu to even up the imbalance in their war with Sri Lanka. In the meantime it could be stored on a shelf in a local food supply facility because in India we have very flexible working practises. And very many entrepreneurs. Yes. Mr Abbott, we are open for business. It is true we have had a run of nasty accidents with our reactors but the early Russian ones were not very well made. And no cities have been destroyed. We are thinking very positive on the outcomes, Mr Tony.

Abbott’s spin team high fived each other and the wait staff and emailed all Australian media outlets with a release they had prepared earlier. News Limited ran a front page which had Mr Abbot’s photo in cycling helmet on it and the headline: our radioactive PM out for a spin on his nuclear cycle.

Uranium sales to India an amazing achievement, trumpeted the seventy per cent of Australian press owned by Murdoch. On page three, a photo of a topless Bollywood starlet carried a detailed report of a thirty word speech in which Mr Abbott praised India for being a model citizen in nuclear non-proliferation.

“Utter nonsense” commented another nutter on the ABC (probably an intellectual or a scientist) who went on to explain that India, Abbott’s ‘model citizen’ refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty. It has moreover gone on to develop nuclear weapons outside the non-proliferation treaty. And it is refining Uranium at a pace which is double that required for its nuclear submarines and other peaceful uses. They have no independent nuclear watchdog. Their nuclear industry is run by the state. And monitored by the state. And their new PM is a hawk.

Bruce Billson who appeared unfit for duty was not available for comment but the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement that the Abbott deal was a bold step towards greater prosperity for Australia by an enterprising and fearless leader. Forget the nabobs of negativity in the communist ABC. They know they’ve got funding savings to look forward to. 

ABC news reported that sales will be one billion dollars. No big win for average Australians.

Profits from uranium sales go to the Big Australian, BHP which despite its slogan is a multinational company. The Australian government stands to gain incidental taxes no greater than 100 million dollars. It’s a tiny return on a risky venture. In essence, Abbott has flown to Dehli at our expense to trade a lethal substance to a dodgy customer for the benefit of a multinational. But that’s Bollywood. And Shiva has been returned. Bruce is still missing.

Tell it like it IS in Iraq, Mr Abbott.

Truth was always going to be the first casualty of office for the Abbott government. During the election campaign voters were showered with lies, hollow promises, empty slogans and just plain hokum. Lies about no surprises. Lies about balancing the budget without cutting spending. Lies about a fair budget. Lies about education funding. Lies and secrecy about asylum seekers. About superannuation.

The government’s lies reflect an apparent arrogance and superiority which is costing it dearly.  At worst it suggests contempt for the intelligence of the average voter. At best voters feel they are taken for fools. Taken for a ride. Embedded with its advisors in a culture of spin, where a convenient version of events is concocted hourly for public consumption, the government has apparently overlooked a prime prerequisite for democracy: trust. Without trust there can be no true partnership, no social or political compact.

Or else, seduced by a rampant aggressive narcissism, as practised by its top dogs, such as Scott Morrison, it cynically believes it can bulldoze its way through the trust barrier, too.

 Sally McManus itemises the coalition’s 282 broken promises. It may be a record for a government in its first year of office. Little wonder then, that opinion polls show a record low in popularity for Abbott’s adults in charge for their first year. And a mounting anger and frustration with a government that appears to have no clear agenda beyond the maintenance of power.

That low opinion is likely to decline even further given the betrayal of trust involved in Abbott and Bishop’s pronouncements about Iraq. Ironically, the short military adventure which may, to his advisors, have seemed guaranteed to boost Abbott’s flagging personal popularity could ultimately cost him and his government dearly. Sadly, it will also put at risk the lives of innocent men and women. 

Yet Iraq also presents Abbott with an opportunity to stop the rot. Tell it like it is. Build on the bit of himself that has attracted positive attention. Forthright is how they see him overseas, according to some elements of the press. Outspoken. Direct. Not a truth twisting weasel who is economical with the truth and who backs away from commitments. Not an arch manipulator with a pathological desire to tell you what you want to hear. Or what the focus groups have scripted. Abandon pretext and pretence just this once. Step up to the plate. Behave like an adult in charge.

Iraq offers the Prime Minister a chance to begin to rebuild his popularity. It will be a long journey. But it begins with a simple step. All he has to do here is step up and tell the truth. Can the humanitarian mission crap. Crap is a word he’s already broken in with regard to climate change. It’s catchy. But it’s applicable this time.

Do your duty, Mr Abbott. Make the captain’s choice. Tell Team Australia it’s all about oil. IS controls most of Syria’s oil and gas production. Next step will see it in control of Iraq’s. It already controls half the country. Tell voters you have decided we need to follow our leader, the United States. Follow the Great Satan as its many enemies in the region call it, into a complex and dangerous theatre of war. Tell them we are joining a Kurdish counter revolution, a conflict where we don’t belong to interfere in the lives of people who mostly don’t want us there. And who will kill to make the point. Locals will resent our alien presence and will already suspect our pretence of liberation as a cover for our commitment to defending the interests of western capitalism.

Or you can call the whole thing off. Or hold your high horse, Napoleon Cockatoo. Reflect awhile. Consult. You pay for good advice. Man up and listen to it. It will not be flattering. But it will be real. And you need to get real. You are making a big mistake. You don’t need another doomed, inglorious and dangerous intervention in the shifting sands of unwinnable wars abroad at a time when domestic affairs warrant your full and undivided attention. You need to pull things together. Call your ministers into line. Let’s be frank. You don’t even have a coherent budget strategy. And your treasurer is not one you can safely leave alone to get the job done.

Come clean about Iraq, Mr Abbott. Its government has persecuted Sunnis for the past eleven years. It has shown proficiency only in two areas: venality and alienating and radicalising the Sunni majority in the region. It has provided fertile ground for IS recruiting. And another western intervention will be just the drawcard needed to persuade the waverers into joining up. Why give IS what they want?

Stop the spin about saving Iraq. There’s not much to save. The Iraqi government is in a state of delusion or denial. They have just lost half their country to IS. Yet they go about their daily political affairs as if none of this was happening. They are crippled by incompetence and beset by corruption. Their army is nimble in retreat.

Iraq’s defence capability is symbolised by the single helicopter that buzzed ineffectually over its troops as they briefly engaged IS troops in Tikrit on 15 July. There were supposed to be many, many more.

“I wonder what on earth happened to the 140 helicopters the government has bought over the last few years,” asked a former Iraqi minister. It’s highly likely that it was stolen by one of the most corrupt states in the world where the motivation for public office is to secure as many kickbacks as possible. Iraqi soldiers who headed to the Tikrit front rushed home after they discovered that the rations were pitiful, they had to supply their own weapons and buy their ammunition.

Iraqi security forces are an oxymoron, a disturbing contradiction in terms. Beyond help. We are rushing to the aid of a hopelessly corrupt state’s hopelessly dysfunctional armed forces, forces which have not won a single counter attack against IS. Not only is Iraqi security it a liability in combat, it is a gift to its enemy. It’s real function is to supply munitions and materiel to the other side. It acts as a virtual armoury, a cornucopia of easily captured modern weapons for IS to further strengthen its military capacity.  

Now there has been talk of supplying the Kurds with a weapons drop. You tell us that our intervention is to save the Kurds and support the Iraqi government. The two aims are contradictory. Have you overlooked the bitter enmity between Iraq and Kurds? Have you not listened to your advisors who would have told you that the Kurds have been the scapegoat for the failure of Iraqi security forces? 

Isis is not a bunch of Bedouin bovver boys who have galloped out of a David Lean desert set to raid and return to base leaving life to go on much as it did. Nor are they about to be frightened off by the sight of uniformed westerners in uniform. Or by modern weaponry. Quite the reverse. Ruthlessly efficient, ISIS has modern weapons already and it knows how to use them.  It is an organised and capably administered military organisation. It controls an area larger than Great Britain containing around 6 million people. It is the superior force in the Syrian opposition. And it appears to be consolidating power over an expanding area. There is little sign of successful local checks on its rise. Syrian and Iraqi opposition is in disarray. And it would relish the chance to have infidel western adversaries to add legitimacy to its regime of brutal terror.

Trivialising ISIS is no solution. It is no lightweight fly by night insurgency as it is typically constructed in the shortened attention span of our media. It is financed by its control of oil wells and by its control of key roads. It has powerful outside regional backers keen to foster any anti-Shia forces. It has local roots and it has had Saudi and Qatari outside financial backing. Monstrous, yes but a monster others have helped to create.  Saudis have helped many Sunni movements in Iraq and this support has been crucial in boosting ISIS recruiting of Iraqis.

TV grabs of public executions are sickening and are guaranteed to get any viewer to want their government to do everything it can to stop them. But it has to be the right thing. Not some half-baked military intervention masked in moral posturing in a desperate attempt to secure oil supplies. If we simply supply arms in a divided front there is every chance that those arms will be captured and used by ISIS. Or other local terrorists such as PKK. Time for mature and deep consideration, not a knee jerk reaction. Less demonising and more dispassionate, rational analysis.  More thinking and less emotive hyperbole.

The place to start is to tell it like it is. The way to be a statesman begins with acknowledging reality. Iraq’s Shia leaders were boosted by US intervention against Saddam Hussein. Their day is over. Their power has been squandered in corruption and ineptitude and by the events of 2011 in Syria when Sunnis gained the ascendancy and upset the sectarian balance of power in Iraq.

The war on terror failed. The result of western intervention in 2003 and its policy towards Syria has been to pave the way for a Jihadist movement vastly more powerful than Al Qaida which spans Syria and Northern Iraq. In Patrick Cockburn’s words, a new and terrifying state has been born.